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China suspends current elections for top 100 counties
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The country's top statistical body, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), has suspended their annual list of top 100 counties among the country's 2,800 candidacies this year, according to a Decision Making magazine report on December 4.

The news probably cools off the over-heated competition triggered off in September and October amid agitated local governors with strong expectations to squeeze their counties on the list that honors local economic achievements. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., a global investment banking and securities firm that contains 33 persuasive indexes for counties to lure investors, recognizes this listing. The magazine reported that the assessment, revised in 2000, evaluates local medical care, education, energy consumption and environment protection, in addition to GDP growth.

Several potential counties lost face when the green-blue algae blanketed Taihu Lake this summer, stinking up water sources in half of the leading 10 counties on the Top 100 list. Tap water became fetid in one of the country's most developed areas and local residents had to queue up for bottled water, which sold out as soon as it arrived in supermarkets during the polluted days.

The department responsible for the Top 100 election inside the Statistics Bureau has been involved in a national survey of agricultural development since 2006, officials told Decision Making when explaining why there has been no listing of top 100 counties this year. Apart from the top 100 counties, the bureau also cancelled elections for the top 100 cities and elections for the top 1,000 towns.

In January, NBS Director Xie Fuzhan said that the bureau planned to do more mathematical calculations to improve the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) assessment, in order to determine correct energy-consuming indexes and to evaluate service and agricultural industries this year. Experts believed these informative statistics, like the agricultural survey, would be more helpful than the city and county listings for policy makers.

Shenmu, one of the richest counties in Shaanxi Province, with its fiscal revenues hitting 1.98 billion yuan (US$267 million) last year, has also been home to 120,000 poverty-stricken residents, or one third of its total population, Decision Making reported on December 4. Yet the county produced more than 8.2 million tons of crude coal last year. The coal mine production dried up the river in Wanghua Village, a locality of the county. Approximately 400 mu (26.67 hectare) of farmlands belonging to the village became barren, driving local men to leave their homes to seek work on construction sites and forcing local women to sell rubbish to survive. Although the mine owners paid 20,000 yuan to each villager, the subsidies were inadequate compared with the farmers' losses. "What can we do when the compensation runs out? There is no more land to plough and no water to drink," said a local farmer.

Similar troubles also worry local bureaucrats. An official from neighboring Fugu County told the magazine: "We introduced business enterprises to benefit our people and improve their lives. But in fact, the firms have caused massive pollution, ruined our natural resources and harmed people's health."

According to a survey conducted by Chen Yao, a researcher from the Institute of Industrial Economics of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the top 100 counties have doubled their costs in a decade-from 150 million yuan while creating 100 million yuan in GDP.

To put an end to the energy-consuming economic circle, the State Council has issued an evaluation system of energy consumption per GDP in November of this year. Resources-saving performance will play a key role in deciding provincial governors' future careers as of next year. In fact, a veto from the environmental protection bureau could deny potential awards to local governors.

According to a survey conducted by the media among Shaoxing natives in August, an ideal model county should be capable of keeping the environment pristine; narrow the income gap among residents; lower the unemployment rate and build up a reliable security system for local citizens. Yao Jingyuan, chief economist from the National Bureau of Statistics, said that the assessment of economic sustainability is more important than the evaluation of current development. "But," he noted, "the problem is how to assess it."

( by Wu Jin December 10, 2007)

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